A weekend interview with ...
... Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco. The union recently rejected participation in the state's teacher performance pay plan, becoming the 30th district to do so. Webb spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about performance pay, and why teachers seem so opposed to it.
Why do you think teachers are so opposed to performance pay?
Well, I don't think that teachers are opposed to performance pay, and would not want anyone to misconstrue or interpret this vote as a vote against performance pay. I believe this vote was against the MAP (Merit Award Program) iteration of performance pay.
So what is wrong with MAP?
Well, I think that there were a number of things that teachers had concerns about. First of all, I think part of it has to with timing. It came of the heels of a failed E-Comp plan that the DOE tried to foist upon teachers, which then got turned into STAR, which then got modified again into MAP. So I think it's really hard for teachers to separate MAP from these other plans which had been ill thought out. And MAP truly is very very similar to the components of STAR. It had some modifications and some slight improvements. But it still had very unrealistic time lines. Teachers were being asked to vote on something that would take effect, in a sense, before they had ever even voted on it. Because it applied to this whole school year. And it involved certain types of exams that teachers haven't had any exposure to, the validity of which haven't been tested, and we don't even have those exams in Pasco County yet. So I think there was a concern about rushing headlong into something teachers didn't feel comfortable with. ...
What about the teachers who we heard in public comments saying, 'Don't pit me against my colleagues. Pay me what I'm worth instead.'?
I think that also is an issue for teachers. I do believe that's a broader issue than just with MAP. I think the timing of MAP when we're in a revenue shortfall just exacerbated those concerns. ... We haven't been able to negotiate the pay raise yet because nobody knows what the financial situation is going to be like. So I think teachers may be afraid that the Legislature is going to latch onto this to give some raises, but not provide raises for all teachers.
And teacher raises are permanent, whereas bonuses are not.
Right. And we have been fighting in Pasco - not just in Pasco, but in the state of Florida - over teacher salaries. They have been woefully inadequate compared to other parts of the nation. We continue to lag behind. And yet we continue to look for people from all over the country to come to Florida because of our growth and our openings. But we don't have competitive salaries. I have heard this from other teachers, that a bonus that people can't really count on is not going to attract people to come to our state, nor is it something to retain people. People look at the bottom line - what is it that I need to live, pay the mortgage, make my homeowners insurance, put food on the table. And a bonus isn't the way to do that.
There's been a lot of articles written about performance pay. Essentially they say that teachers groups are the only ones on the opposing side, that everybody else is starting to move toward merit pay or performance pay of some type. What do you think of that characterization?
Well, I think that characterization is a reflection of the types of merit pay proposals that have been offered to teachers. ... We have not been given the freedom and the latitude to sit down with the district and try to negotiate what an accurate and valid and acceptable pay plan would look like for teachers in Pasco. A teacher in Pasco is not the same as a teacher in Hernando or Hillsborough or Broward or Dade. You know, we have areas that this district stresses as their priority, their initiative. We have different needs. And we have not been given the ability to tailor a program for Pasco. Everything that has come down has been sit down, negotiate it within three or four months, and be ready to implement it. That doesn't give any real opportunity to have meaningful dialogue and creatively and thoughtfully construct a program that would be valid and acceptable.
Can you give me three items that you think would be appropriate to consider in a performance pay plan you would find acceptable?
I think most teachers are not opposed to some aspect of student learning gains, as long as those learning gains are realistic for the population of students that they teach. We have some teachers who work with students who are challenged in their ability to learn. The type of learning gains for that student should definitely be different than for the type of student who is in your regular education class. ...
In some other areas ... also looking at proficiency. When you get to certain areas ... maybe it's not so much learning gains as demonstrating proficiency in a particular subject. ...
And I think there has to be a widespread acceptance that the tools are valid measures. A lot of concern has centered on the mandated use of FCAT. That may be one tool that's part of the whole complement, but it's not necessarily the whole thing.
Other areas might have to do with a teacher's own professional growth and development. What types of things is the teacher doing to improve his or her skills? And how is that teacher actually demonstrating that? Are they a leader in the educational setting?
Why do you think teachers are not being listened to when they say these things?
You'd have to ask the Legislature about that.